Hope: Everyone’s Got Talent!

Season 2, Episode 14

Who doesn’t hope to be seen for their talents rather than their limitations? When four teenage girls from Amsterdam embark on a voyage of volunteering, they overcome the perceptions of themselves as “learning-disabled” and demonstrate abilities that inspire hope in all of us. And when a group of physically-disabled people in Kosovo step up to lead volunteer projects, we see that those we often perceive as beneficiaries have enormous potential to contribute to their community.

Leonita, one of the Kosovo project leaders with a physical disability, eloquently expressed what she believes are the hopes of people who live with this reality:

Their hopes are powerful and colored by the desire for a full and independent life… They dream of a world where their abilities are valued and respected, and where they have to opportunity to realize their full potential.

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These four girls, all friends attending the same school for teenagers with learning challenges, embarked last November on an intense program that would gain them the Europass volunteering certificate. Supported by their moms, the girls did 80 hours of volunteering within six months—a huge challenge for any teenager! From left to right: Alexandra and her mother Monika, Juliet and her mom Marjan (who also accompanied the girls on all their projects), Stine and her mother Suzanne, plus Yasmina and her mother Tati.

Alice Hoolsema, the leader of Ympact 1020, STC Amsterdam’s youth volunteering program, made this fun video to promote the Europass certificate program to teenager.

It is a spoof on 2024’s Dutch entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, by Joost Klein, called “Europapa.” (You can see the original video here.)

In this video, you can see the girls on their very first project, singing and giving out candy on the streets on St. Maarten’s Day (11 November). Normally, kids in the Netherlands carry paper lanterns and receive candy when they sing, but these girls were reversing that to give joy to other people in the street! Alice (far right) taught the girls this song, “This Little Light of Mine” which became their theme song for the six months of the program.

The girls also helped make and distribute Reverse Advent Boxes to give out to migrant families; to do this, they had to find 24 things in their house (such as cans of food) that they could give to someone in need to bring them hope at Christmas. At right, Alexandra and Stine help wrap boxes that other people had donated to Serve the City Amsterdam.

The girls also participated in a STC Christmas Tree sale. Alexandra said this was her favorite project!

The girls also participated in a regular Serve the City project at an urban farm with other STC volunteers. The moms all came along on this one as well! Left to right: Juliet, Yasmina, Alexandra and Stine with their STC Tshirts; Yasmina’s mom Tati working on the farm; Juliet and Yasmina preparing soup for the volunteer lunch after the project.

In the new year, the team was presented with a new challenge: regular volunteering visits with elderly people. Brigitte and Alice, the STC leaders, thought that this would be a great way to continue to develop the talents of the girls as they returned each week to the same location, bringing hope to the elderly people as they related to them in their dignity as senior members of society.

As you can see in the pictures above, the girls excelled in interacting with these elderly residents, some of whom had dementia. They talked with them, drew and colored together, painted their nails, served them coffee, wheeled them in their chairs… Juliet and Stine even learned some Indonesian words from one of the ladies (above)! In the end, the activities coordinator at the home suggested that the girls showed so much aptitude that they could be trained to use various tools for interacting with dementia patients. Hope perhaps for a future vocation?

In the spring, the girls also participated in an Easter market at home for disabled people to raise funds for a sensory garden for the residents. Above, Yasmina sells coffee, while Stine and Alexandra man a flower booth. Alexandra also played her recorder for everyone!

Alexandra’s older sister, Hannah Sophie is a resident of the home. Alexandra said her sister loved hearing her play!

Finally, the girls completed their 80 hours of volunteering and received their Europass certificates! As you can see, Alice was really proud of her proteges (pictured here with Juliet). In the course of volunteering, the girls—often perceived by their limitations—discovered and demonstrated so many things that they were good at! The hope that the girls would be seen and known by their talents was well and truly fulfilled.

Below, the girls celebrate with Marjan, Juliet’s mother and their team leader, and Alice. Job well done!

In Mitrovica, Kosovo, Serve the City volunteers gathered at a place called “Sebosku” (“Together” in Albanian), a social center for people with disabilities. At right is Jay Benfante, the STC Kosovo director with his friend Gozman from Sebosku.

On the first evening of a Big Volunteer weekend in April, volunteers learned about the background of Sebosku. The centre seeks to help teenage and adult people with disabilities learn new skills and become more independent, as well as facilitating social events for them to enjoy each other’s company.

We accompanied a project team led by Leonita ( sitting at left), to the Down Syndrome Kosova Centre. Leonita has a congenital condition that affects her hands and feet and has had many surgeries to enable her to walk. But this has not stopped her from getting an education (despite the fact that this is no easy task for someone with disabilities in Kosovo) and becoming a law clerk.

The project was to clean up the garden of the centre, which was filled with debris from a recent renovation and overgrown. Astrid, one of the volunteers from Sebosku, did not let the fact that he was in a wheelchair keep him from working hard. Astrid’s dedication inspired all who saw him, and gave hope that everyone can be a contributor to their community!

On the second day of the weekend, Astrid also delivered the sandwiches to the kid’s Sports & Arts Camp, along with his friend Gosman. In the second picture, Gosman, who also was the project leader for the basketball part of the camp, is distributing sandwiches to kids along with Arton, who was part of the lunch team. The people of Sebosku, who are usually recipients of help from other people, demonstrated their own capabilities, not only of helping others, but of leading people in helping.

Carlton Deal, the founder of Serve the City, loved the hope expressed by this painting on the walls of Sebosku. We saw this hope realized on this Big Volunteer Weekend!

We hope that these stories have inspired you! If you want to hear another story from Kosovo, go to Love: Crossing the Line in Kosovo.

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